It’s no great surprise that most German media, reporting on the Israel-Palestine war, was one-sided, bigoted and misleading. There were samples of fairer treatment at first, showing the demolition of Palestinian homes, the shutdown of a meeting place for young people, the far-right gangs marching in East Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs,” and the invasion of the al-Aqsa Mosque at the height of Ramadan with stun grenades, tear gas and “skunk-fluid” spray. There were even timid hints that Netanyahu’s provocations aimed at distracting attention, gaining popularity and avoiding a prison term, even if it led, as he certainly knew and planned, to a major round of violence.
However, the fairer reports dwindled as the media returned to “Israel’s need for self-defense, the right of every country” – with no mention of any similar Palestinian need. It equated rockets fired from Gaza, or those ten percent which pierced Israel’s protective “Iron Dome” and then wreck homes and cause deaths, with the constant, hour-long torrents of death and destruction blasted by one of the strongest military forces in the world into a small, densely populated confine, which could in no way deter the fighter-bombers and missiles, the drones circling low, night and day, over homes and families, for Gaza had no “Iron Domes” sent over by US arms producers. The media seemed largely to accept the huge disproportion, showing the mourning and heartbreak when a Jewish child was tragically killed by a rocket, but remaining almost silent about Palestinian children.
Ibrahim al-Talaa, 17, told of feeling it was the end for himself and his family.
“The Israeli warplanes bombed many different places in my area with more than 40 consecutive missiles, without issuing the prior warnings they used to issue in the past three wars. The sound of the bombing and shelling was so terrifying that I cannot describe it… As the bombs fell heavy and close, the house was shaking as if it would fall on our heads… My nerves collapsed and I was about to cry out, but I tried to restrain myself, just to give my family some strength. I saw my 13-year-old sister crying in silence. I hugged her for a while trying to cheer her up.”
Maha Saher, 27, a mother of two daughters, Sara, 4, and Rama, five months old, told how, during the heaviest of attacks, her daughter Sara wept uncontrollably, asking for her father to return home.
“I don’t fear death itself. But I fear to lose one of my children – or they to lose me…I fear they will target my apartment while we are sleeping, as they did with the al-Wehda street massacre.”
Israeli warplanes had bombed three houses on al-Wehda street on Sunday, killing 42 civilians, mostly women and children. “They then destroyed the street itself to prevent the ambulances and fire trucks from reaching the destroyed buildings and wounded people,” she said.
It was Al Jazeera which quoted one father: “We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of the bombardment… Now only two of our family are alive. 14 members, women, children and men, are gone. Six are still under the rubble.”
For much of the world, the sixty-six dead Palestinian children remained little more than numbers, like the daily count of new COVID cases. There almost seemed to be media rules for one-sided reporting.
Ongoing descriptions of conditions in Gaza were equally rare. Unlike Ashgerod or Bathsheeba in Israel, there was a water shortage, an almost total lack of clean water. We were not told what three or less hours of irregular electricity meant for people with COVID whose oxygen containers need electricity – or incubator babies when generators stopped working. And aside from the days and nights of bombing, how many were told of the decades of enforced shortages, joblessness, isolation, hopelessness and abiding fear in Gaza?
Such one-sidedness might be blamed only on Israel for not permitting journalists to enter Gaza. For the few already there, at Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, bombs aimed at their building, after a 60- minute warning, destroyed equipment and prevented further pictures of Gaza from their rooftop.
However, German media bias is part of a larger picture with a long history.
Back in 1949 the newly-founded Federal Republic of Germany soon grasped that the worsening Cold War enabled it to welcome back all but the most notorious Nazis in every field: schools, courtrooms, the police, universities, top military posts, the diplomatic service, all political levels, even as chancellor or president and, in the most essential, basic power positions, the same economic titans who built up Hitler and fattened themselves on war profits achieved with mass slave labor.
But there were two conditions for acceptance in the western community of nations. One was loud espousal of democracy and freedom, with elections and a variety of political parties, as long as they were not too conspicuously pro-Nazi – and safely supported western free-market rule.
The second obligation was a repeated, wordy repudiation of anti-Semitism and total approval of anything said or done by the government of the newly-founded Israel.
Germany has held to this exercise in bonding. A key episode was the Eichmann Trial in 1961. Israel refrained from any finger-pointing at active former Nazis and Shoah-leaders, most notably Hans Globke, known as “the second most important man in West Germany”. In gratitude, Globke’s protective boss Konrad Adenauer agreed to help finance and build up Israel militarily, with 2 billion marks for a starter.
This policy, praised as admirable repentance, cemented the West German rebirth as an industrial, political, military bastion and attack base against the “Bolshevik East”. However, the obligations remained. Did Israel support Guatemalan killer troops with Galil rifles und Uzi machine guns, and all bloody dictators in Central America with weapons and surveillance equipment? Was it eagerly supportive of apartheid South Africa, also in weapons development? Was it the last remaining supporter in the UN of Washington’s illegal blockade of Cuba after even semi-colonies like Palau backed away? Take care! While progressive Jewish journalists in Israel opposed their reactionary government, the mildest utterer of criticism in Germany was quickly condemned as an anti-Semite! Or if Jewish as a “self-hater!” Ignore that rule at your peril – of almost total censorship and ostracism!
This applied most strictly to the expanding settlement of the West Bank. Roads shut down for Palestinians, with roadblocks and checkpoints at every turn, ever smaller shares of limited water supplies, family ties between Arabs in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank restricted by walls and Israeli soldiers, West Bank children jailed, even tortured for throwing stones, homes with panicked children smashed into at all hours and the recurring bombing of Gaza recalling World War Two (or Korea and Vietnam) – it was all defended, even welcomed by nearly every political leader, publication and journalist as “necessary self-defense of our eternal friend” – through thick and thin.
As the polemics against “Palestinian terrorists” increased, whose violent or non-violent rebellion against occupation justified every countermeasure, I turned, always a history buff, to a speech by President Andrew Jackson in 1833, when he asserted that the Indians “…established in the midst of another and a superior race… must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.” They soon did; the U.S. Army moved 60,000 Indians to arid territory west of the Mississippi, with thousands dying in the “Trail of Tears.” Are there no parallels today?
In November 1868 George Custer and his Seventh Cavalry attacked the Cheyennes and Arapahos and slaughtered 103 warriors, plus women and children. He reported “a great victory … the Indians were asleep… the women and children offered little resistance.” He boasted: “The Seventh can handle anything it meets … there are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the Seventh Cavalry.” We know what happened to him.
No, Hamas is not modeled after Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse. But don’t Custer’s boasts find echoes in loud words heard in the Knesset? And again we must face the question: Which are the terrorists?
In Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers about the fight for independence after 130 years of French oppression, explosives concealed in baskets kill innocent French civilians. To a bitter rebuke, the Algerian response was: “Give us your bombers and you can have our baskets.” Desperate desires for freedom and equality, with no available peaceful response to torture and repression, lead almost inevitably to violent responses – anti-apartheid bombs in South Africa or the explosive derailment of German trains, even with civilians, by antifascist French partisans. Rockets from Gaza were nasty and bloody, but what else was available against fighter-bombers? And with 12 Israelis killed, two of them children, but almost 250 Gazans, 66 of them children, I must again ponder: “Who are terrorists?”.
The world is grateful for the ceasefire, but the price for it was heavy. Beyond the tragedy of any human loss or maiming on either side, airstrikes in Gaza hit 17 hospitals and clinics, wrecked the only Covid testing laboratory. Fifty schools were damaged or closed, three mosques were leveled and 72,000 Gazans lost or had to leave wrecked homes. Water, electricity, sewage disposal are now almost hopelessly crippled, far worse than before.
As those eleven terrible days ground on, the German media (as in the USA and elsewhere) found it increasingly difficult to distort or ignore what was really happening. More and more people questioned the almost total support for Netanyahu by every party except the LINKE (and even it was sadly split on some aspects). As a result, as if by command, the focus was altered. It was not Gaza’s rockets that became Germany’s main enemy but again anti-Semitism.
Of course it existed and, as always, had to be fought, relentlessly, as part of a century-long struggle. Anti-Semitic attacks or actions have indeed increased in recent years – committed mostly by Germanic Nazi-types who hate Muslim “foreigners” as much or more than they hate Jews. In fact, “anti-Islam” attacks were in the majority, if only because so many more Muslims live in Germany than Jews. But also, perhaps, because there are neo-fascist nests ensconced in the ranks of the police, the armed forces – even in some of the high positions which fascists wholly dominated in postwar years.
Of course, Palestinian desperation inevitably spread to Germany among sons, daughters or cousins of those killed or again homeless in Gaza or suffering under repression in the West Bank and Israel.
A week ago I took part in a demonstration to oppose the bombing of Gaza, alongside many thousands, mostly young Palestinians and other Arabs living in the West Berlin borough of Kreuzberg. Anti-Israeli feelings prevailed in countless signs, most of them hand-made on cardboard. But I saw and heard not one example of an anti-Jewish nature, I saw no crossing of the line to racism. The atmosphere was determined but peaceful; the sunny weather lent almost a picnic aspect.
After two hours my feet gave out and I left for home. Then, in the evening news, I learned that at the end of the march some group had indeed shouted anti-Semitic slogans. This caused the police to step in – hard. Or was it because the huge crowd, though dutifully wearing the obligatory face masks, could hardly keep to full social distancing in the crowded streets? So the march, one of three in Berlin alone that day, ended in violence and many arrests. As for the shouters, it seems that some may have been far-right Turkish groups. Long experience also leads to a suspicion that they included, in part, some hastily recruited provocateurs, so at least the closing minutes of what had been a peaceful demonstration would provide the media and the politicians just what they wanted. They did. The sober, fair description of the event by a journalist on Berlin’s official TV channel was quickly deleted – and replaced by an amazingly abject apology for “biased reporting.”
This disturbed march became the centerpiece of a campaign fed by excited reports about stones thrown at a synagogue, anti-Semitic smearing of a few plaques, burning of Israeli flags in two cities, a punch to someone wearing a kippa. All nasty, but not very hard proof of what the media shouted: “Alarming Antisemitism on the Rise!!!” Yet under the klieg lights the politicians outdid themselves in their warnings, while always adding their defense of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state – but now tending to avoid direct mention of Benjamin Netanyahu. Who could admire him?
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the right-wing Christian Social Union, notorious for his efforts against refugees and immigrants, demanded “the full force of the law” against anti-Semitism.
Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate to be next German chancellor, interrupted her attacks on détente with Russia to visit a synagogue and declare that “I am shaken to hear that Israeli flags are being burned in Germany…In these difficult hours we stand firmly at the side of Israeli women and men…Israel’s security is part of German state reality“.
Armin Laschet, her Christian Democratic rival in the race for top office, not wanting to be outdone, demanded that the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) be forbidden in Germany – although this secular, pro-Marxist organization rejects anti-Semitism.
A counter-demonstration was quickly organized at the Brandenburg Gate, where more political leaders added their anxious voices, denouncing burnt or torn flags and stones and again stressing Germany’s unalterable support for Israel’s right to protect itself. The dead children of Gaza went unmentioned.
It was a professor with Palestinian background who noted sadly: “I believe it is time for the people of Germany and the German elite to stop making Palestinian children in Gaza pay for the crimes of the German people against European Jews.” No halls were available for people with such ideas.
As for those Arabs demonstrating in Berlin; most of them, born here, could not be deported. But they had better watch their step! I could not help but recall the months after Pearl Harbor and how Japanese-Americans were depicted – and how they were treated! Or some Asian-Americans today!
So many people confuse the views and policies of some fanatics and some leaders, whether fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists, with large groups of very varied human beings in each category. To counteract this, in Germany, I would offer two suggestions – though without much hope of great success (except perhaps on a local scale):
Why couldn’t the Jewish Community in Germany state its disavowal of all repression of Palestinians in the West Bank, in Israel and in Gaza, its rejection of the accelerated settlement of West Bank areas, the discrimination of the Arab language within Israel, and the isolation and suffocation of Gaza – all policies of Netanyahu, his Likkud and other parties – and thus make clear that these are not “Jewish policies” and should not be Israeli policies. It could then call for a united front of both Jewish and Muslim groups and people in Germany to oppose all forms of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or attacks against anyone because of color, religion or cultural differences. This might be the best way to oppose the sinister elements that have troubled Germany for so long, most terribly when in control, and still sinister when underground. Such a mass coalition could be a model for all of Europe and beyond.
Previous Berlin Bulletins, a bio, photo and a list of my books, in English and German, are available at: victorgrossmansberlinbulletin.wordpress.com